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Gallehr keeps writing new chapters, even after 50 years at Mason

April 3, 2017   /   by Colleen Kearney Rich

Don Gallehr in the classroom with students

Don Gallehr is being honored for 50 years of teaching at Mason. Photo by Ron Aira.

English professor Don Gallehr marks a Mason first this month: celebrating 50 years as a faculty member here. Gallehr will be recognized for his longtime commitment to teaching Mason students as part of this year’s University Day Service Awards, April 5-6. Gallehr began his teaching career at Mason when the university still was a satellite campus of the University of Virginia. Here are five facts about one of Mason’s longest-serving and most-loved professors.

He didn’t have his PhD when he started working at Mason. Gallehr was working on his graduate studies at Fordham University when he interviewed for the job. “Dr. Krug said, ‘You are going to finish your doctoral degree, aren’t you?’” recalls Gallehr. “And I said, 'Yes, of course.’ It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t.” Gallehr got the job and then finished his PhD at Catholic University of America in 1974, taking a class or two a semester while teaching.

He founded the Northern Virginia Writing Project. Gallehr  had heard of the National Writing Project before it went national and traveled to California to take part in one of the summer institutes. Mason held its first summer institute in 1978 and the Northern Virginia Writing Project was born. The project’s mission is to “improve writing instruction, writing practice, and learning at all educational levels; to develop teacher leaders across the disciplines and elevate their professional standing; and, to provide support for young writers and their families,” according to its website. Gallehr’s leadership role in the project led to visits on Capitol Hill to get funding to support the project nationally.

He has taught more than 11,000 students. That number is based on a quick calculation (roughly 110 students per semester) and doesn’t include summer classes. He keeps in touch with many, especially the teachers he has mentored during his work with the Northern Virginia Writing Project, and he writes many letters of recommendation. In 2008, he received the David J. King Teaching Excellence Award.

He does his homework. Gallehr does every assignment along with the students. “It makes me a much better teacher,” he says. He also workshops his essays in class and tries to work with a different class group each week.

Tibetan monks think he is hysterical. When the Dalai Lama was looking for a writing teacher for his monks, he contacted the National Writing Project, which sent him to Gallehr, who is well-known for incorporating meditation into the writing process. In 2010, he taught 33 Buddhist monks in a 15-day workshop in northern India. “They were the happiest group of students I have ever taught,” he said. “They would laugh their heads off. It was a wonderful 15 days.”